Nearly one month since Uvalde and the years-long standstill over gun reform legislation appears to be over.
The Senate pushed a bipartisan gun violence bill to the brink of passage Thursday as it voted to halt a Republican filibuster against the measure, clearing the way for Congress’ most far-reaching response in decades to the nation’s run of brutal mass shootings.
After years of GOP procedural delays that derailed Democratic efforts to curb firearms, Democrats and some Republicans decided that congressional inaction was untenable following last month’s horrific rampages in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas. It took nearly a month of closed-door talks but a group of senators from both parties emerged with an 80-page compromise embodying incremental but impactful movement.
The measure would toughen background checks for the youngest gun buyers, keep firearms from more domestic violence offenders and help states implement “red flag” laws that make it easier for authorities to take weapons from people adjudged dangerous. It would also fund local programs for school safety, mental health and violence prevention.
Thursday’s roll call ending the blockade by conservative GOP senators was 65-34, five more than the 60-vote threshold needed. Final passage of the $13 billion measure was expected by week’s end with a House vote to follow, though timing was uncertain.
Congress has not taken significant legislative action on guns in some 30 years and conservative lawmakers have long been loath to work on the issue, arguing gun control is ineffective and often unconstitutional.
The election-year package fell far short of the more robust gun restrictions Democrats have sought for years, including bans on the assault-type weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines used in Buffalo and Uvalde. Yet the accord let leaders of both parties declare victory and demonstrate to voters that they know how to compromise and make government work, while also leaving room for each side to appeal to its core supporters.
“This is not a cure-all for all the ways gun violence affects our nation,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., whose party has made gun restrictions a goal for years. “But it is a long-overdue step in the right direction. It’s significant, it’s going to save lives.”
“The American people want their constitutional rights protected and their kids to be safe in school,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in a nod to the Second Amendment right to bear arms that drive many conservative voters. “They want both of those things at once, and that is just what the bill before the Senate will have accomplished.”
Yet while the Senate measure was a clear breakthrough, the outlook for continued congressional movement on gun curbs is dim. Only about one-third of the Senate’s 50 GOP senators backed the measure and solid Republican opposition in the House is certain, and both chambers – now narrowly controlled by Democrats – could well be run by the GOP after November’s midterm elections.
Underscoring the enduring potency of conservative cIout, Thursday’s vote occurred minutes after the right-leaning Supreme Court issued a decision expanding the right of Americans to carry arms in public. Their ruling struck down a New York law that has required people to prove a need for carrying a weapon before they get a license to do so.
Senate action came one month after a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde. Just 10 days before that, a white man accused of being motivated by racism killed 10 Black grocery store shoppers in Buffalo. Both shooters were 18 years old, a youthful profile shared by many mass shooters.
The talks were led by Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C. Murphy represented Newtown, Connecticut, when an assailant killed 20 students and six staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, while Cornyn has been involved in past gun talks following mass shootings in his state and is close to McConnell.
The bill would make the local juvenile records of people 18 to 20 years old available during required federal background checks when they attempt to buy guns. Those examinations, currently limited to three days, would last up to a maximum of 10 days to give federal and local officials time to search records.
People convicted of domestic abuse who are current or former romantic partners of the victim would be prohibited from acquiring firearms, closing the so-called “boyfriend loophole.”
That ban currently only applies to people married to, living with or who’ve had children with the victim. The compromise bill would extend that to those considered to have had “a continuing serious relationship.”
There would be money to help states enforce “red flag” laws and for other states without them that for violence prevention programs. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have “red flag” laws and Cornyn – whose state does not – demanded the inclusion of all states during the negotiations.
The measure expands the use of background checks by rewriting the definition of the federally licensed gun dealers required to conduct them. Penalties for gun trafficking are strengthened, billions of dollars are provided for behavioral health clinics and school mental health programs and there’s money for school safety initiatives, though not for personnel to use a “dangerous weapon.”